At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Redistribution: What is It and Where Does It Lead?

posted by Jack Kerwick

We now have exhibition 4,003 to prove that, at bottom, Barack Obama’s agenda is and has always been socialistic to the core.

The most recent piece of evidence confirming what, by now, everyone should know all too well is an audio recording of a speech the President delivered at a Loyola University conference back in 1998.  It was there and then that Obama called for Americans to “pool resources” in order to “facilitate some redistribution [.]”  He unabashedly declared: “I actually believe in redistribution.”

When we couple this with Obama’s now notorious claim that the successful did nothing to deserve their success—“You didn’t build that!”—a larger worldview begins to come into focus.

Yet to see that worldview spelled out, we must go beyond the sloganeering of the leftist politicians who promote redistributionist ideas to the leftist intellectuals who give rise to them.


Philosophers John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin are among the contemporary academic world’s biggest stars.  And they are recognized as such because of their ingenuous and tireless efforts to construct an intellectual apparatus for “social justice”—i.e. redistribution.

Rawls devises what he calls “the original position.”  In the original position, individuals gather together to determine what kind of society they shall inhabit together.  In this regard, it is roughly comparable to what philosophers of an earlier era called “the state of nature.”  However, in the original position, individuals stand behind a “veil of ignorance” that blinds them to every one of those characteristics—race, sex, class, religion—that distinguish them from one another in the real world.


Now, because no one knows what his circumstances will be in the society chosen, parties to the original position arrive at a consensus that their society shall be governed by two principles of “justice.” 

The first asserts that everyone is to have as expansive a right to liberty consistent with the same right for everyone else.  But the second demands that all inequalities that arise from the observance of the first principle must be “arranged” or redistributed in order to benefit “the least advantaged.”

Parties to the original position would agree to this, Rawls thinks, because no one knows whether or not he will be counted among the least advantaged in the new social order.

Notice, society here is treated as a lottery in that no one has done anything to deserve either his standing in it or “the advantages” or “disadvantages” that attach to his standing.  (Translation: “You didn’t build that!”) Yet it is unlike a lottery in that—just because one’s fortunes and misfortunes are undeserved—the just society requires of life’s winners that they share their earnings with life’s losers.


Dworkin follows Rawls down this path.

Dworkin contends that a distribution is equal and, thus, just, if it passes what he calls “the envy test.”  When a person envies the resources of another, he is willing to exchange his own resources for them.  When no one envies the resources of others, then “equality is perfect,” Dworkin says. 

A person has two kinds of resources, “personal” and “impersonal.”  Personal resources are mental and physical traits—health, strength, talent.  Impersonal resources are material goods.  The latter depend upon the former, but since no one did anything to earn his personal resources, no one is entitled to keep the impersonal resources that they made possible as long as there are others that envy them.   


Unlike impersonal resources, personal resources cannot be redistributed.  However, Dworkin is a clear enough thinker to know that if it is permissible for the government to redistribute one’s impersonal resources, then it is no less permissible for it do whatever it can possibly do to make good for inequalities in personal resources when envy extends to them. 

Dworkin writes that if the distribution of personal resources fails the envy test, then there must be “compensatory strategies” set in place to “repair…inequalities in personal resources and luck.” 

To know the true character of Obama’s redistributionist policies and where they logically lead, we need to know about the theories underwriting them. 




Obama’s Broken Promises

posted by Jack Kerwick

Prior to his election to the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama and his supporters made us several promises.

First, they promised us that if Obama is elected, American race relations will improve dramatically.  After all, the office of the presidency is the most visible, and arguably the most powerful, office on the planet.  If a black man occupied it, it would be obvious for all with eyes to see that whatever obstacles their color once threw up for blacks had been safely relegated to the dustbin of history.

If Obama is elected, Obama enthusiasts continued, the white American majority will have redeemed itself.  It is the election of Obama—and nothing more—that would open the portal to the promised land of a post-racial era.


This is what we were promised.

Another promise, closely linked to this first, pertained to the unity generally that Obama would allegedly bring to the country upon his election. 

His presidency would be post-racial, yes; but it would also be post-partisan, or trans-partisan.  There would be no blue-state America or red-state America, as Obama famously said.  There would be only one America—and he would be the President of all Americans.  The country was more divided under George W. Bush and Republican rule than at any other time, we were told. Obama would heal our wounds and unify us.

Thirdly, Obama would make us loved throughout the world once again.  He would restore our damaged global image, especially throughout the Middle East.  During a visit to Israel, then Senator Obama went so far as to vow to “bring peace to the Middle East,” if he should become the president.


Each of his major promises Obama has shattered into a gazillion pieces.

The country is at least as divided today as it has ever been.  An impartial spectator would be in no danger of confusing our present state with anything that could plausibly be described as “unity.”  For that matter, neither would Obama or any of his fellow partisans be in any such danger.  That they are forever charging Republicans with “obstructionism” proves that even they know that they can’t so much as pretend to have unified the country.

Have we entered a post-racial millennium under Obama?  Not even close.  The orgies of black violence—euphemistically characterized in terms of “flash mobs” by a politically correct press—that have erupted throughout the nation over the last couple of years is one proof of this. 


Another is the alleged rise in white “hate” groups that has occurred during the course of Obama’s tenure in office.

Tellingly, it is the leftist, Democratic-friendly Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that has been beating the drum on this last score.  It is the SPLC that warns us of an explosion of “white supremacist groups” that has allegedly been ignited by the election of a black man to the office of the presidency.

The SPLC reports: “Strands of the radical right—hate groups, nativist extremist groups and Patriot organizations—increased from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 in 2010, a 22 percent rise.  That followed a 2008-09 increase of 40 percent.”

What about America’s standing in the world?  Has our President, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, let us not forget, proven to be a force for peace, whether in the Middle East or, for that matter, anywhere else?


As anti-American protests now spread to 21 (and counting) countries throughout the Islamic world, it is painfully obvious that the man whose mixed racial ancestry and Islamic name were supposed to smooth relations between East and West has done nothing of the kind.  Obama’s conduct toward the Islamic world has actually made our relationship with it worse than ever—no mean feat considering that things were never good to begin with.

For the first time since September 11, 2001, Americans were murdered by Islamic terrorists on American soil.  This happened during the Fort Hood massacre of 2009.  And it happened again on the second 9/11, September 11, 2012, when an American ambassador and three others were slaughtered by an angry mob that stormed our embassy inLibya.


Both attacks occurred under Obama’s watch.

Now, the Islamic world is on fire as those whose pro-American sentiments Obama was supposed to compel attack American embassies wherever they can be found.

Things are actually worse for Obama than I make them sound.

Not only has he failed entirely to deliver his promises of bi-partisanship, interracial harmony, and world peace.  The price of Obama’s first term seems to have been unyielding partisanship, greater racial animosity, and greater anti-Americanism.

This all needs to be born in mind on Election Day.    



Polls and Realities

posted by Jack Kerwick

Republican activists at this year’s Values Voters Summit are perplexed that the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama remains tight.

According to an AP story from September 15, activist R.J. Robinson put it bluntly: Romney “ought to be killing Obama, and he’s clearly not doing that.  He should be doing better.”

Mike Garner, another attendee at this weekend’s conference, elaborated: “If Romney loses this election, the party really needs to do some soul-searching.”

Doubtless, it isn’t only those Republicans who were in attendance at the Values Voters Summit who are losing some heart. GOP voters from across the country are frustrated and anxious as well.

And this is exactly the intended effect of polls that depict this as a tight presidential contest.


The pollster, along with other journalists and politicians, has succeeded in convincing us that he is on a quest for objectivity. He would—and does—have us think that he is concerned with nothing more or less than simply revealing the will of the voter.  In reality, however, like his peers in the rest of the media and his counterparts in politics, pollsters shape the voter’s will.

This is not a new insight. The early 20th century conservative political theorist and Harvard professor Joseph Schumpeter established this long ago.

Political coverage is no different from commercial advertising, Schumpeter observed.  Consumers “are so amenable to the influence of advertising and other methods of persuasion that producers often seem to dictate to them instead of being directed by them.” Similarly, the voter’s will “is largely not a genuine but a manufactured will.”


In politics and commercial advertising, “we find the same attempts to contact the subconscious.”  Both also rely upon “the same technique of creating favorable and unfavorable associations which are the more effective the less rational they are.”  Both political and commercial advertising rely upon “the same trick of producing opinion by reiterated assertion”—not “rational argument.”

In other words, the stimuli—like polls—with which the voter is continuously fed are not designed to discover his wants.  They are designed to create them.

Yet politics and commercialism are alike in another respect: politics is a form of commercialism.

Political journalists, pundits, pollsters and the corporations that they serve have a deeply invested monetary interest in doing all that they can to arouse, as much as possible, the enthusiasms of audiences.  A presidential election season, more so than anything else, provides them that opportunity, for it is only during such times that Americans from coast to coast take at least some interest in the political life of their nation.


Since, then, it is only once every four years that a presidential race is held, it is a no brainer that media figures should use every ounce of their power and influence to render it as exciting as possible.  Like anything that excites consumers, exciting politics sells.

And a tight presidential race is more exciting politics than one that is not so tight.    

Bear all of this in mind as we make a few notes. 

First, in 2008, Obama beat John McCain by seven points.  This was a decisive victory, yes, but not anything at all like a landslide.  And this was at a juncture when the aged, debilitated McCain was as powerful a symbol of the GOP fatigue pervading the country as was the unknown, youthful, and charismatic Obama a symbol of the equally pervasive hope for a new course of direction.


Still, Obama couldn’t best McCain by more than seven points.

Second, Obama now has a record—a record of which no one who is not an Obama loyalist has anything very good to say. In truth, it is a bad record.  He and his supporters can claim all day long that Obama inherited it from his predecessor, but the reality is that the economy that Obama inherited isn’t nearly as bad as the one over which he presides.

Many people—most, I think it is fair to say—understand this.  Actually, their appreciation rivals that of their understanding—a fact born out by the enthusiasm with which voters delivered a truly landslide defeat to Democrats in 2010. 

This enthusiasm has not abated.  Not in the least.  And this brings us to our third note.


Everyone who voted for McCain in 2008 can be counted on to vote for Romney this year.  Obama, on the other hand, will not garner as much support as he received four years ago.  There are far too many disenchanted Obama voters—small business owners and entrepreneurs, some independents, some self-avowed conservatives, and even some Democrats.

Romney is not McCain.  President Obama is not the idealistic Senator Obama with whom the American public was presented.  The country is now weary of the Democrats. 

We should recall these facts the next time we are presented with polls showing this to be a tight race.     



In Defense of Ron Paul: A Reply to National Review Online

posted by Jack Kerwick

Mitt Romney’s decision to honor Ron Paul with a video tribute at this year’s Republican National Convention didn’t sit well with some on the right. 

In an article appearing in National Review Online, “The Problem with Paul,” Jamie M. Fly and Evan Moore give expression to this angst when they refer to Romney’s and the conventional planners’ decision as “ridiculous,” “regrettable,” and “a mistake.”

The authors begrudgingly acknowledge that, given Congressman Paul’s number of delegates and the vocal nature of his supporters, the “concessions” that “have already been made to them on extraneous issues during the drafting of the platform” and the allocation of a speaking slot to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are understandable.  Still, they contend, “paying tribute to Representative Paul is a step too far.”


Moreover, as if to disabuse Paul and his supporters of any doubts regarding their fellow partisans’ feelings toward them, Fly andMoore add that “instead of honoring Paul on the way out, the delegates in Tampa should be cheering his departure.”  They explain that Paul “has left a legacy of extremism and falsehoods that need to be driven from the party, not embraced by it.”

“It’s important to remember how far outside the mainstream Paul and many of his supporters are,” the authors continue. The views of Paul on which the authors set their sights, as Paul’s supporters and their opponents have by now come to expect, pertain to foreign, not domestic, policy.

Fly and Moore are incensed specifically about Paul’s position on the issue of Iran. 


Paul views the current preoccupation with a potentially nuclear Iran with the same cool skepticism—and even ridicule—with which he greeted the talk leading up to the war inIraq.  Just as hysteria was the order of the day back in 2003, so hysteria is fueling our discussion over Iran.  We are once more “beating the war drums,” Paul has said.

Fly and Moore criticize Paul for allegedly painting “a picture of a peaceful and benevolent Islamic Republic that has never actually existed.”  They also refer to his argument as an “apologia for the ayatollahs” and judge it to be “as absurd as it is dangerous.”  Furthermore, they contend, “it is wholly irresponsible for anyone who aspires to national leadership” to take the position that Paul takes.


Paul’s objectors also allude to his “trail of similar factual errors and conspiracy-mongering on issues ranging from the defense budget to America’s position overseas, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even the origins of the attacks of September 11, 2001 [.]”

For several reasons, Fly’s and Moore’s argument is woefully inadequate to the task of supporting their main thesis.  The primary reason, though, is that it isn’t much of an argument at all.

But there are other considerations that expose it for the cluster of aspersions and emotional appeals that it is.

First of all, neither now nor ever has Paul taken an interest in depicting Iran or any other country either as “a peaceful and benevolent Islamic Republic” or along any other lines.  He is concerned with insuring that the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international contracts are observed by all parties—including the United States.  His understanding of those terms may be erroneous or arguable—but this is hardly uncommon when it comes to matters of law, whether domestic or otherwise.  And his case for his position may conjure up an inaccurate image of a party in question, but this scarcely justifies the verdict that he is an “extremist.”


My second point relates to this last.  For all of the frequency with which they are used in our public discourse, t-shirt, bumper sticker terms like “extremist” are not befitting of any remotely genuine intellectual exchange.  To put it bluntly, it is a conversation-stopper.  “Extremism” is a politically or emotionally-charged word that is meaningful only insofar as it reveals how its user feels about those against whom he is leveling it.

Thirdly, Fly, Moore and all Republicans who supported and who continue to support something like George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” in the Middle East should take care against accusing others of extremism.  In droves, war-wearied Americans flocked to the polling booths in 2006 and 2008 to relieve Republicans of power.  From this time to the present, poll after poll continues to show that Americans don’t attach nearly as much importance to foreign policy as do Fly, Moore, and their ideological ilk.  Furthermore, most Americans believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes, and they positively eschew the robust interventionism favored by Paul’s Republican critics.


That even Republicans know this is born out by the fact that this Republican National Convention was the first such convention in 60 years that omitted all explicit references to war.  Instead, we had euphemistic talk from the likes of John McCain of America’s leadership in the world, etc.

In short, it is not the foreign policy views of Paul, but those of Fly and Moore, that are “far outside the mainstream.”  It is their views that are “extreme.”

Finally, the criticisms of Fly and Moore are not unlike those raised by almost all of Paul’s detractors in the GOP inasmuch as they center exclusively on his foreign policy vision.  But to focus on the latter in isolation from the larger understanding of liberty that informs it is like ridiculing the Catholic sacrament of communion independently of the theological vision that makes it a sacrament. It is like commenting on a piece of a puzzle while ignoring the puzzle.


It is true that Paul regards the conventional foreign policy promoted by the likes of Fly and Moore as both disastrous and dangerous.  Yet even if he perceived it quite differently; even if he thought that it promised the most wonderful of consequences for our nation and the world, he would still oppose it with all of the passion that he opposes it now and with which he would continue to oppose the welfare-state, regardless of whether he could be convinced that the redistributive schemes of the social engineers haven’t always come to naught.  

There is one very simple reason for this: it undermines liberty. 

Liberty—not some universal abstraction, but the concrete, particular way of life to which Americans have grown accustomed over the span of centuries—consists in a wide dispersion of power.  It consists in decentralization.  In the popular parlance, liberty is comprised of a “limited”—an exceptionally limited—government, a government essentially divided against itself.


In stark contrast, the enterprise upon which Fly and Moore want to continue to embark our country and to which Paul has always been vehemently opposed, demands a gargantuan government.  There is no two ways about this.

Talk radio host Dennis Prager is no fan of Ron Paul.  But Prager has coined an expression with which Paul wholeheartedly agrees: the larger the government, the smaller the citizen, and the larger the citizen, the smaller the government. 

Paul rejects the foreign policy of Fly and Moore (and Prager) because he realizes, even if they don’t, that it can’t but have the effect of diminishing the citizen.

If this is the sort of person who Republicans want to banish from their party, then it should be honest and abandon, once and for all, all of their rhetoric of “limited government.”      




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